Latest News

Medard H. Nelson Charter Wins 2016 Class Got Brass

Medard H. Nelson Charter Wins 2016 Class Got Brass

Class Got Brass 2016


Medard H. Nelson Charter School, an elementary and middle school, was the surprise winner in the fifth annual Class Got Brass competition on Sunday – beating several strong high schools to take the top prize of $10,000 in the musical competition sponsored by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation.


“I knew we had to think outside the box,” said Nelson Charter band director Johnnie Van Buren II, whose middle school brass band members bested two previous winners of the competition – Landry-Walker High School and St. Augustine High School – to take top honors and the grand prize. 

“I knew that Landry-Walker and St. Augustine would sound good, so I told my kids that we needed to have a presentation with more entertainment,” Van Buren said. “That’s when I came up with the casket idea.” In a nod to New Orleans’ famous tradition of jazz funerals, the Nelson Charter brass band performed accompanied by a faux coffin – a prop that was a first for the Class Got Brass contest and apparently made a good impression on the judges.

A total of 14 school brass bands competed in the 2016 Class Got Brass, a program of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation that supports music education in the schools while also promoting New Orleans’ cultural traditions. Nine schools competed in the beginners’ category, and five schools were in the advanced group.  The contest took place in Armstrong Park as part of the ninth annual Congo Square Rhythms Festival, one of four free festivals produced by the Jazz & Heritage Foundation.

The Jazz & Heritage Foundation initiated Class Got Brass in 2012 as a way to encourage schools – which often have marching band programs but rarely have brass bands – to include New Orleans’ famous “second-line” tradition in their offerings for students. By enticing schools with large prizes – which take the form of gift certificates that may be redeemed for instruments, instrument repair, sheet music or other supplies or services needed by the schools’ music programs – the Jazz & Heritage Foundation has prompted many schools in the region to launch and maintain brass bands, which are emblematic of the city.

The top prize in the advanced category is $10,000. The top prize for the beginners is $5,000. Every school that competes gets a gift certificate for $750.

Nelson Charter School did not have a brass band when Van Buren arrived as band director in 2012. A lifelong music educator, and a graduate of Marion Abramson High School in New Orleans East and of Southern University in Baton Rouge, Van Buren said he was inspired to start a brass band at his school because of Class Got Brass.

“We were hurting for money,” Van Buren recalled. “To get $750 just for showing up and participating, you can’t beat that.”

Nelson Charter’s bass band first competed in Class Got Brass in 2013, and it took first place in the beginners’ category in both 2014 and 2015. For 2016, Van Buren took a risk by entering his band in the advanced category – which paid off handsomely.

Van Buren said he would use the Class Got Brass prize money to buy instruments – primarily trombones – and method books for his students. He said he also might purchase a sousaphone, which can cost $4,000 or more for a high-quality instrument.

Nelson Charter School was one of eleven Class Got Brass competitors that received free tutorials in the brass band tradition from musicians associated with Preservation Hall, thanks to a partnership with the Preservation Hall Foundation.

The other top winners in the advanced category were Landry-Walker High School, which took second place and a prize of $7,000, and St. Augustine High School, which took third place and $5,000. Landry-Walker, led by band director Wilber Rawlins, took the top prize in both 2013 and 2015. And Rawlins’ previous school, O. Perry Walker High School, took second place in the 2012 contest. St. Augustine, led by band director Eddie Williams, won the top prize in the 2014 Class Got Brass.

The beginners’ category was won by Park Forest Middle School from Baton Rouge. Led by band director Doretha Williams, Park Forest improved from its third place finish in the 2015 contest.

KIPP McDonogh 15 Middle School, which won the top prize in the 2012 Class Got Brass and second place in 2013, took second place in this year’s beginners’ category. KIPP Central City Academy, a first-time Class Got Brass contestant, took third place among beginners.

The complete results of the 2016 Class Got Brass competition are:

First place: Medard H. Nelson Charter School, $10,000 (band director: Johnnie Van Buren II)
Second place: Landry-Walker High School, $7,000 (band director: Wilbert Rawlins)
Third place: St. Augustine High School, $5,000 (band director: Eddie Williams)
Fourth place: Edna Karr High School, $750 (band director: Chris Herrero)
Firth place: McKinley Senior High School, $750 (band director: Frank Williams)

First place: Park Forest Middle School, $5,000 (band director: Doretha Williams)
Second place: KIPP McDonogh 15 Middle School, $4,000 (band director: Kelvin Harrison)
Third place: KIPP Central City Academy, $3,000 (band director: Joshua Speight)
Fourth place: Lincoln School for the Arts, $750 (band director: Carlyn Glenn)
Firth place: Langston Hughes Academy, $750 (band director: Samuel Venable, Jr.)
Sixth place: Dolores T. Aaron Academy, $750 (band director: Andrew Bower)
Seventh place: Lafayette Academy, $750 (band director: Charles Jackson)
Eighth place: Eisenhower Elementary School, $750 (band director: Brandon Kelley)
Ninth place: Moton Charter School, $750 (band director: Edwin F. Harrison, Jr.)

2016 Class Got Brass Judges:
Ben Jaffe, Preservation Hall
Kerry Brown, musician and festival organizer
Shamarr Allen, trumpeter and bandleader
Brice Miller, trumpeter and bandleader
Gerard Howard,
Veronique Dorsey, Pinettes Brass Band
Christie Jourdain, Pinettes Brass Band
Dr. Michael White, clarinetist and bandleader
Glen David Andrews, trombonist and bandleader
Brandan Odums, visual artist
Freddie Lonzo, trombonist, Preservation Hall

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation, Inc.